Near the end of 2016, a family friend of mine served on a criminal jury in a high profile trial in Oklahoma County. She is a highly-educated professional with a working professional husband and four children. All of her children are out of the home and she had told me she actually wanted to serve on a jury. Typically, I talk to friends who ask me if I know how to get them out of jury service which then launches me into my jury service and the American judicial system soapbox. I am also aware of many websites on how to “avoid” jury service. I do not know of any sites that talk about proudly serving on juries. I hear the same people who don’t want to serve complaining that jury verdicts are wrong or what they believe are wrong findings by jurors as they come in on cases which are splashed across the daily news. We do not really know the facts of those cases, what happened at trial or even whether the result was correct or just. In most cases we only know what the news media reports which usually contains a lot of misunderstandings of the judicial system, facts and the law.
As lawyers, we should give our friends and family positive feedback on jury service and encourage them to serve. Many times I hear the complaint from other lawyers that jury pools are not representative because many educated working class people are able to “avoid” jury service. Who can blame people in their overly scheduled lives and busy jobs for not wanting to spend a day or two at the courthouse for nominal compensation? No one wants to be away from home and family for the time it takes to serve on the jury. I am sympathetic to the situation because as a lawyer in a jury trial I put in double or triple that amount of time, but I also understand that for every verdict that makes news stories and headlines there are dozens of regular citizens with common sense who chose to not participate in the system. This means the decisions are made by others who may reach the wrong conclusion or might get it right. You do not know whether it was really a crazy wrongly found verdict or not.
Tell your friends and family when they ask that there are two ways of participating in the American system, voting and the jury system. If they really want to have input into the system, they need to appear for jury duty, stay on a panel rather than try to get thrown off and be one of the jurors who sits through the entire trial hearing the evidence and deciding the verdict. Until they do that, they really do not know whether a case is wrongly decided or whether your fellow citizens who did do jury duty got it right or wrong. The Seventh Amendment is unique and special. We are in danger of letting its fruits slip away. Encourage others to accept and carry their jury service out to the fullest extent when they receive a notice for jury duty.
After all, if they like listening to alternate fact scenarios and speakers who like to hear themselves talk, they will love a jury trial. In all seriousness, our judicial system really is based on the common sense of the participants. If the people participating are not representative because the educated and employed are able to get out of jury service, then the system has a flaw which can affect verdicts. Juries are intended to represent the diversity of our community in all ways. For some reason, the voice of every mediator I know sounds off in my head at this point asking the standard opening question: Do you really want to risk your business/money/life/insert subject with a jury of twelve people off the street of X county? Even considering that, do your best to be positive and supporting of jury service since it is your and my clients that are risking their future outcomes in the judicial system. After 30 plus years of jury trials you learn to have faith in the jury system or you should not be in this profession. Tell anyone that will listen that jury service is a proud part of the American way.
Byline: Michael W. Brewer is an attorney, founder, and partner of Hiltgen & Brewer, PC in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. To contact Mike, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (405) 605-9000 or tweet him at @attymikeb. For more information, please visit www.hbokc.law.